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A Certain Step

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‘Bernie Wolfe GAY?’

Serena raises an eyebrow at the tabloid headline screaming at her as she scrolls through her feed. She pauses as she tries to place the name she’s definitely heard of to the distinctly unflattering photo of a blonde woman hurrying into a car. The brief article summary provides more clues.

‘Letters and Numbers star Bernie Wolfe revealed as gay: Former lover reveals all in WORLD EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW.’

 

Ah. That explains it then. Letters and Numbers is one of Jason’s absolute favourite podcasts. She doesn’t click on the article. As far as she’s concerned if a former partner has sold out Bernie Wolfe’s sexual orientation then she’s a partner not worth having. Serena herself knows just how vicious the paps can be when they get their teeth into a storyline; she had a horrible time fighting them off the year she had her ‘EXPLOSIVE DIVORCE’ from Edward when she discovered her long-time dance partner had been cheating on her with other professionals on the hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing. Not that it matters anymore, Serena was the only one who kept her job and she’s now the show’s longest-serving female professional. Serena continues to scroll down her feed and soon enough, the article is forgotten.

 

The Bernie Wolfe story is one the tabloids cling to for weeks and there’s no escaping it. Bernie’s ex-husband gives interviews and Alex Dawson (the woman who sold out Bernie Wolfe’s sexual orientation) is rumoured to be a contestant on the next series of I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out of Here!) despite the fact that her only claim to fame is that she says she once slept with the podcast host. Bernie Wolfe herself remains silent about the matter. She’s still recording and releasing her weekly podcast though so Jason’s happy. And if Jason is happy, Serena is happy. The world can go round.

 

Once the original sensation has run its course, Bernie Wolfe becomes a regular fixture in various celebrity gossip magazines, linking her romantically to all kinds of people. Serena sighs at every single one of the mentions she sees in her Twitter feed from the gossip magazines she follows (and she only follows them because she occasionally has to do interviews for them). As far as she’s aware, Bernie Wolfe is a private person and must be hating all of this attention. After the divorce, Serena used the attention to make a name for herself. But then she’s always been a born performer, ever since her mother (the world-famous ballerina Adrienne McKinnie) first sent her to dance classes when she was three years old. Serena certainly wouldn’t call someone who records a weekly podcast a performer. In fact, what is Bernie Wolfe, exactly? That question leaves Serena stumped, so she sets about finding the woman’s Wikipedia page.

 

‘Berenice (“Bernie”) Griselda Wolfe is a linguist and mathematician, most famously known for her successful podcast series Letters and Numbers which explains mathematical concepts and the evolution of language, often with celebrity guests.

A former teacher, Wolfe quit her job after divorcing her husband and began writing a blog to fuel her passion for linguistics and mathematics. This led to her becoming a guest columnist for publications such as The Guardian, TES and The Times. Wolfe also briefly worked as a lexicographer for Oxford English Dictionaries during this time.

In late 2016, the BBC approached Wolfe about making an educational podcast series. Letters and Numbers has gone on to become a global success with millions of regular listeners. Wolfe has also appeared on television shows and at educational events for schools. She has written two books: Word Soup and Linguithmetic. Both of these books had popular accompanying book tours.

Despite being a private person, Wolfe has recently been the subject of much press coverage after Alex Dawson (a furniture restoration and upcycling expert based in Yorkshire) revealed that she was in a six-month relationship with the linguist and mathematician.’

 

Serena raises an eyebrow. As far as she can tell Bernie Wolfe is dedicated to her podcast and prefers to keep a low profile. There’s nothing wrong with that. Closing the tab, she assumes that’ll be the last time she thinks about Bernie Wolfe.

 

-

 

“Hello, Clem?” Bernie addresses her agent and makes a shushing gesture to her children who are sat on the sofa opposite her.

“Hi Bernie, I just wanted to ask if you’d be happy for me to pass on your details to the producers of Strictly? They’ve approached me about booking you for their next series but say they’d like to discuss it in person with you first.” Bernie laughs.

Strictly? I doubt it, it’s only February – this’ll be someone out for a laugh because of all this tabloid ridicule.”

“No, Bernie, they really do cast this early. There’s a long way to go before your first appearance in September. It’s one of the best opportunities out there and I think you’ll be brilliant at it.”

“You’ve got to be joking Clem, I’d be terrible at that show!”

 

Opposite her, she notices that both Cam and Charlotte’s jaws have dropped.

“It’s not about doing well, Bernie, if that’s what’s worrying you. You’d get paid very well for it and it’s good publicity.”

“I don’t know, I don’t think it’s really me,” Bernie begins then notices Charlotte practically vibrating in her seat as she mouths ‘say yes’ repeatedly at her. Bernie sighs. This whole tabloid drama has caused both Cam and Charlotte a lot of hassle and she’d really rather not lose contact with them. The only reason they’re both visiting now is so that they can ask her all the questions they have regarding which details reported in the press are true and which are not. Bernie looks at her children and then thinks about the offer.

“Actually Clem, tell them to be in touch with me and I’ll talk through the logistics and whatnot with them. I can’t stop recording Letters and Numbers for this show.”

 

Cam and Charlotte’s smiles at the news their mother might be going on Strictly are the biggest Bernie has ever seen them.

 

-

 

“Ms Wolfe?” The voice addresses her over the intercom to her apartment.

“Who’s this?”

 

When the speaker identifies themselves as a member of BBC’S Strictly Come Dancing team, Bernie buzzes them up, welcomes them in and sits down on her sofa so she can process what they say. Whilst the dancing show is the furthest thing from enjoyment she can imagine, she knows how much her children want her to take part. Bernie sits and listens to the person sat opposite her detail filming schedules and fees and the possibility of appearing on the live tour if she’s either good enough or a fan favourite. Bernie thinks it all seems a bit full on, especially as she won’t make it past the second week.

 

She agrees to everything being said, remembering the delight on Charlotte and Cam’s faces when they were faced with the possibility of their mother being a contestant on what is arguably the biggest celebrity competition on television.

“How much does learning to ballroom dance mean to you, Ms Wolfe?” The question makes Bernie pause. She hadn’t actually considered that.

“Well, uh, I guess it means a great deal. I’ve never had the chance to properly learn and it would be something that I think would make my children very proud of me. I think it’d also take me out of my comfort zone a fair bit. I only really do my podcast and the occasional live event at the moment, I’ve never had a live audience as big as Strictly, especially not when I’d be doing something that’s so alien to me.”

 

Her answer must pass muster because it triggers the most genuine smile Bernie’s seen throughout the whole chat. When they’re reaching what Bernie assumes will be the end of the conversation, the TV exec pauses and clears their throat, looking down at the floor awkwardly. Bernie is immediately on edge.

“And, um. Ms Wolfe? Strictly Come Dancing is rejuvenating its image this year to be more in touch with a modern and diverse audience. Therefore, we’re going to have a couple of same-sex pairings. Would you be willing to be part of one?”

 

Bernie sits and stares at the wall ahead of her, deliberately choosing not to look into the face of the casting director. She has no idea what to say. The casting director must worry they’ve offended her because they cut in again hastily.

“Obviously there’s no obligation and you won’t know properly until the launch show so it’s a genuine surprise, but we want to ensure that celebrities are comfortable with the possibility.”

 

Bernie’s first thought is indeed to be offended since this whole invite is clearly stemming from the huge tabloid hype around her sexuality over the previous year. Really, on principle, she should turn down the show. However, the more she thinks about it, the more she thinks she’d have a better chance of doing better if she was paired with a woman. Thinking of dancing with a man had made her feel awkward and foolish. Thinking of dancing with a woman allows her to picture an alternate universe where there’s the possibility of perhaps making it to one of the later weeks of the competition.

“Ms Wolfe?” The voice sat opposite her pulls her out of her musings and she smiles.

“Yes please, I’d quite like to be part of a same-sex pairing.”

“In that case, Ms Wolfe, welcome to this year’s Strictly Come Dancing family. We’ll be in touch with your agent regarding the formal arrangements. Please don’t disclose any of this to anybody before the official press launch.”

 

-

 

When Bernie attempts to subtly ask Charlotte to fill her in on exactly how Strictly works, her daughter beams.

“You’re going on then, Mum?!”

“Shhh, Lottie. I may be. But nothing’s formally announced yet.”

 

Charlotte simply smiles and loads up the first of the many episodes and clips she’s got queued up for her mother to watch.

 

-

 

Bernie’s initial feelings of optimism have faded once again by the third video. It’s all very over the top and everyone appears to be so damn good. Bernie knows for sure she’ll never be anywhere near as coordinated as the couples on the screen. Beside her, Charlotte is giving her a running commentary on everything from the costumes to the music to the professionals. Bernie knew her daughter watched the show but had not realised that Charlotte was such a superfan. At least her appearing on the show will make her daughter happy, even if she does make an utter fool of herself when the world sees her dancing abilities (or lack thereof).

 

-

 

They’re watching some clips of Series 15 when Bernie finds herself captivated by a rumba. The professional dancer has the most entrancing hips, Bernie can’t keep her eyes off them. What’s really upsetting is that it’s obvious the celebrity partner has very little ability. All of the magic of the dance is the work of the professional. Bernie licks her lips as she follows the figure-of-eight motion of the dancer’s hips. Glancing at Charlotte, she aims to sound casual.

“So, ah, who’s that then?”

“That’s Robbie Medcalf, he plays a bobby in the ITV crime drama Nicked. God, I’d forgot how rubbish he was.”

“No, um, who’s the dancer?”

 

Charlotte gasps and turns to face her mother, a scandalised look on her face.

“Who’s THAT?! Mum, you’ve got to be kidding! That’s only Serena Campbell, the longest serving dancer on the show. She’s absolutely my favourite even though she’s never won. She’s always paired with rubbish celebs. Though actually she was rumoured to have fallen victim to the ‘Strictly curse’ with Robbie, heaven knows why. Serena Campbell is a thousand times better than Robbie Medcalf.”

 

Bernie looks at her daughter quizzically. She’s heard of the ‘Strictly curse’ and knows how much the press try to predict which partners will hit it off year on year. But surely Serena Campbell – gorgeous, curvaceous, talented Serena Campbell – can’t have been attracted to this overweight actor relying far too heavily on a beard and the fact he plays a man in uniform? Bernie’s only just become aware of Serena Campbell but she knows she deserves better than that.

 

Later, when Charlotte has gone home with promises to return and continue Bernie’s Strictly Come Dancing education later on in the week, Bernie opens up her laptop and searches for Serena Campbell. She ends up on the dancer’s Wikipedia page.

 

“Serena Campbell (née McKinnie) is a professional dancer, most well known for being the only professional dancer who has been in every series of the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Campbell is the daughter of world-renowned ballet dancer Adrienne McKinnie and has been dancing since the age of 3.

Alongside dancing, Campbell has her own YouTube channel, Take It To The Grave, where she posts dance tutorials and behind-the-scenes clips of the shows she works on. Campbell has additionally released a workout DVD (Raw and Sweaty), a range of exercise clothing and her autobiography: Unadulterated, Vigorous Passion.

At the beginning of her career, Campbell was married to her dance-partner and fellow Strictly Come Dancing professional Edward Campbell. After it was revealed he had affairs with other professionals on the series, the pair divorced and all involved had their contracts terminated by the BBC, aside from Serena. The pair had one child, Elinor Campbell, who is an actor in the BBC medical drama Holby City. Campbell also has a nephew who is not in the public eye. During series 15 of Strictly Come Dancing, Campbell was reported to have fallen victim to the ‘Strictly curse’ with her partner Robbie Medcalf, an actor in the ITV police drama Nicked. The two have not been romantically linked since this period.

Campbell is openly bisexual and is one of the leading voices in the campaign to allow same-sex partnerships to feature on Strictly Come Dancing. She regularly releases videos, tweets and appears on television shows to advocate for same-sex partnerships on the show, alongside fellow professional dancer Dominic Copeland and one of the show’s judges, Fleur Fanshawe.’

 

The article goes on to list Serena’s achievements on the show alongside the rest of her dance career. Bernie’s mind is in overdrive as she absorbs all of the information. Serena – beautiful, sexy Serena – is one of the reasons that Bernie may very well end up with a female partner this year. Bernie gulps. What if she’s paired with Serena Campbell herself? She’s not sure she could cope. Serena is talented and deserves a partner who is not all gangly limbs, two left feet and bookish awkwardness.

 

-

 

Bernie suddenly finds herself fitting in medical tests and costume fittings and a whole host of other administrative tasks which are required by a show as huge as Strictly. She makes sure to stick to her weekly podcasting schedule. Letters and Numbers is her main focus and she will not let her fanbase down. She’s now amassed an audience in the millions and she’s humbled that so many want to listen to her talk about origins of words and mathematical theorems on a weekly basis. She finds out that her Strictly code name is Persimmon (all of the celebrities are given code names – this year it is fruits - to prevent their names being leaked beyond the Strictly executives). The closer it gets to summer, when the big reveal is going to be, the more nervous Bernie finds herself getting.

 

-

 

“And that is how to perfect your polka! Thanks so much for watching today’s video and don’t forget to subscribe if you want more where this has come from. And if you want to see more guest appearances from the dashing Raf here then send him lots of tweets begging him to come join me again sometime, I’ll put his handle in the description.” Serena winks to the camera before going to turn it off. She’s just finished recording a new video for her YouTube channel in a London dance studio she often uses for her videos. When the camera has stopped recording and all there’s left to do is go home and edit it, she turns and high-fives Raf who has joined her all day.

“Thanks so much Raf, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“No, thank you Serena for letting me have a guest slot on your legendary YouTube channel.” Raf laughs, his soft Scottish brogue echoing in the empty studio.

“Well, the people need their fix of you whilst you’re not on their televisions on a weekly basis. Strictly Come Dancing’s Favourite Male Pro three years in a row and reigning Strictly champion.” Serena laughs, patting him on the back as they leave.

“You say that like you’re not the favourite pro of all time! Honestly, if you don’t win a series soon there’ll probably be riots.”

 

Serena sighs.

“Like there’s much chance of me winning with the partners I get stuck with every year. Ah well, I’ll just try and teach whoever I get to dance well enough to at least get me to Blackpool.”

 

As they part ways, Serena sighs longingly. She does really want to win the show one year. Hopefully this year will be her year.

 

-

 

Serena gets called in for a meeting with the Strictly executives in June. She sits before them and smiles, waiting to hear them run through the logistics of this series.

“So, we’re making some slight changes to the format this year.” There’s a pause. “And they’re changes which may affect you.”

 

Oh. Serena’s stomach sinks. Are they telling her she’s not going to have a professional partner? That she’s only going to be needed for group dances?

 

“This year for the first time we are going to introduce same-sex pairings into the mix.”

 

Serena has no idea what emotions cross her face as she digests the information but she ends on joy. Finally, all the campaigning has been successful.

“That’s wonderful news!”

“Yes, we are catering to all families. Are we right in assuming you would not mind being partnered with a woman?”

“Not at all, I’d thoroughly enjoy it.” Serena grins. “Any info on the celebs you can slip me?” She winks to soften the blow. The producers know her well enough by now to know she’s joking.

“Wait until the announcements. Only in the launch show will you know if you are to be partnered with a male or a female contestant. Thank you for coming today, Serena.”

 

-

 

The powers that be at Strictly contact Bernie to inform her that they’d like to announce her as the first celeb of this series of Strictly and they think it’d be novel to do it via a special Letters and Numbers podcast. Bernie agrees. She feels much more at home in front of her podcasting microphone than she ever would on a national television chat show or breakfast programme. She puts together the material for the podcast and records the announcement parts to the precise instructions sent to her by the BBC. She then signs over the content to the BBC Sounds producers who will withhold posting it until announcement day arrives.

 

-

 

@BBCSounds: This week our podcast of the week is #LettersAndNumbers with everyone’s favourite host @WordsWithWolfe – keep an eye out for a special podcast release at 3pm today! 👀

 

-

 

Bernie retweets the official BBC Sounds tweet and waits for the podcast to appear on the official BBC Sounds page for her podcasts. She’s a bag of nerves all day, even Charlotte coming around with prosecco can’t take her mind off the fact that after 3pm today her life will no longer be quiet. It will be filled with press calls and interviews and more dancing than Bernie’s ever done in her life. At 3pm, Charlotte plays the special edition of Letters and Numbers through her smart speaker.

 

“Hello and welcome to this very special edition of Letters and Numbers. I’m Bernie Wolfe and the theme of this podcast is dance. Is it cha-cha or cha-cha-cha? Do the origins of the name Viennese Waltz really lie in Austria or are the dance and the name from different places entirely? What is the maths behind the counts of 8 in dancing? And, most importantly, will I be able to show that I have rhythm when I participate in this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing?”

 

-

 

Bernie doesn’t get to hear the rest of her very well-researched podcast episode as, beside her, her phone explodes with notifications.

 

-

 

@bbcstrictly: We had a word with Bernie and she’s ready to add some number to our rumba! Our first #Strictly celeb this year is @WordsWithWolfe!

 

-

 

Bernie retweets the announcement, pleased they’ve chosen a flattering photo of her to use as their introduction gif. Underneath, as she scrolls, she sees plenty of responses already and the enormity of the show she’s signed up for begins to sink in.

 

OMG @WordsWithWolfe doing @bbcstrictly I CANNOT

 

Having listened to #LettersAndNumbers for years I’ve just realised I have no clue what @WordsWithWolfe looks like now’s my chance @bbcstrictly

 

Tenner says she’s paired with @RafdiLucca and makes it to week three max

 

-

 

When within half an hour of her being announced, her phone becomes positively unusable thanks to the sheer volume of people suddenly following her on twitter and the notifications filling her screen continually, Bernie wonders if she’s already more than a little out of her depth.

 

-

 

Serena’s just coming out of the studio where she’s been rehearsing for a stage show she’s in with a couple of the other Strictly professionals when her phone rings. Noticing it’s Jason, she quickly finds a quiet spot and picks up the call.

“Jason? Is everything okay darling?” Serena is expecting something to have gone wrong which requires her assistance. What she is not expecting is the excited chatter which fills the line.

“Auntie Serena! Auntie Serena! Today there was a special edition of Letters and Numbers and in it Bernie announced that she’s going to be on Strictly Come Dancing this year. Bernie Wolfe, Auntie Serena! The actual Bernie Wolfe! She’s going to be on the show you work on and you’ll get to meet her! You’re so lucky Auntie Serena! Please can I come and meet her too? I’ll be ever so good and even though I don’t like the crowds and noise and heat of all the lights and things I’ll do it for Bernie Wolfe. Please?”

 

As her nephew pauses to take a breath Serena manages to get a word in.

“We may have very different schedules depending on who we are partnered with Jason but yes, I will try and arrange for you to meet her.”

 

Jason rings off after some more excited babbling and leaves Serena to her thoughts. Bernie Wolfe, now there’s a name Serena would never have picked as a potential Strictly contestant. Knowing how much the linguist and mathematician means to Jason, Serena vows that she’ll try and persuade the woman to give him a couple of minutes of her time. But that’s all. When it comes to Strictly Come Dancing, Serena has her eye on the glitterball trophy and she’s going to give every single second she’s got to train whichever celebrity she gets paired with so she can finally be crowned Strictly champion.

 

She just about manages to ignore the small voice in the back of her mind which reminds her that given the new changes, there’s every chance Serena could be partnered with Bernie Wolfe…

 

-

 

Bernie figures she may as well follow the BBC Strictly twitter page now that her participation is public knowledge. At least if she does that, she’ll be able to see who the rest of her fellow celebrity contestants are. That way she can work out just how badly she’s going to be showed up by the youth and energy she’s sure most of them will have.

 

-

 

It’s only two days later when she gets a text from Charlotte which simply reads ‘Just been listening to the Radio 1 announcement and Lofty?? The ACTUAL Lofty?? OMG Mum!!!’ that Bernie figures another celebrity must have been announced. She opens twitter and her suspicions are confirmed.

 

@bbcstrictly: From the boyband Technicolour to the colourful world of #Strictly – it’s only @LOFTY!

 

-

 

The photo is of a young man with curly hair and a beaming smile. And this is a young man who has experience at being in a boyband so doing choreographed numbers in front of adoring crowds. Bernie knows he’s going to be brilliant.

 

-

 

The announcement of Lofty as a contestant doesn’t surprise Serena in the slightest. He’s the stereotypical young pop star with millions of fans who will win the votes of the younger audience. He’s also exactly the sort of contestant who will get paired with one of the newer professionals. If she had to guess, Serena would say Lofty will get paired with Meena or Leah.

 

-

 

At this point, Charlotte has become Bernie’s personal organiser for Strictly. Bernie never knew her daughter was so enthusiastic about the show but it turns out she absolutely is.

 

“Mum, you need to watch BBC Breakfast tomorrow morning, rumour has it that’s when the next announcement is going to be!”

 

Bernie sighs but makes sure she has the breakfast television show on. She suspects her daughter will be right about this.

 

She sits through news bulletins and sports recaps and some random schoolchildren talking about their appearance on one of the numerous television talent contests Bernie has absolutely no interest in. The presenter, Ange Godard, turns to the camera and smiles.

“Coming up, we speak to TV supernanny Essie Harrison about just how to keep your family entertained in the evening. Stay right where you are!”

 

As the weather plays, Bernie’s phone pings with a notification from Charlotte:

‘Twenty quid says Essie Harrison is the next Strictly contestant.’

 

-

 

“And now in the studio we have Essie Harrison, TV’s favourite supernanny! And she’s here to tell us something which is strictly between us, isn’t it Essie?”

 

The small blonde woman next to Ange smiles and looks at the camera.

“Absolutely, Ange.”

 

The two look at one another then directly down the camera then speak in perfect unison.

“We’re both going on Strictly!

 

Bernie wonders how long it took them to rehearse saying that in time with one another.

 

She assesses both Essie and Ange and is less worried than she was when she saw Lofty announced. They both look younger than Bernie but Bernie isn’t sure they’re as athletic as she is. Whilst she’s not convinced she’ll be a good dancer, Bernie feels more than comfortable on a 5k run or in the gym. That should give her enough of an edge to perhaps be the third contestant to leave after the two on her screen. As these thoughts go through her head Bernie mentally checks herself. It turns out her competitive side is already coming out and she’s nowhere near a dance studio yet…

 

-

 

As she watches, her phone pings with two new twitter notifications.

 

@bbcstrictly: Will Essie earn a star for her chart or will her #Strictly routines put her on the naughty step? @DarlingEssie

 

 

@bbcstrictly: She’s used to early starts on @BBCBreakfast so Ange should have no trouble with the #Strictly rehearsal schedule! @BreakfastAnge

 

 

-

 

Serena reads the twitter announcements and is silently pleased. She doubts that either Ange or Essie will manage to make it to the final, so they’re at least less competition for her good self and whoever she gets paired with.

 

-

 

 

The next three contestants are all revealed on the popular daytime consumer investigative journalism show Know Your Onions as part of a fake special segment on creating your own property business. Bernie sees all the announcements on twitter.

 

@bbcstrictly: He knows his onions but will his samba be a scamba? Strutting his stuff on #Strictly this year, it’s @Fletch!

 

-

 

Bernie’s pleased Fletch is in the mix. He’s appeared on her podcast as a celebrity guest when the episode theme was Cockney rhyming slang. He’s down to earth and knows a lot of helpful money-saving tips. He should be amusing to chat to, at the very least.

 

-

 

@bbcstrictly: Here on #Strictly to put his money where his mouth is, it’s everyone’s favourite Swedish dragon and entrepreneur Henrik Hanssen! @HHanssen

 

-

 

Bernie’s rather surprised that Henrik Hanssen has agreed to do Strictly. He’s very reserved and a shrewd businessman who knows just what sort of projects to invest in. It’s why he’s so successful on Dragon’s Den. Bernie thinks Henrik may be a bit like she is: fairly reserved and completely new to the whole ballroom dancing game. Hopefully they’ll both do themselves proud.

 

-

 

@bbcstrictly: Here’s hoping her #Strictly routines are as fiery as her hair… It’s national treasure and property queen @MsJacNaylor!

 

-

 

Bernie looks at Jac’s promotional image with interest. She thinks she’s caught part of one of her shows before but hadn’t really acknowledged just how spectacular the woman’s cheekbones are. She reckons Jac will be the winner of the series, she has grace and perfection written all over her.

 

-

 

Jac has got Serena worried. Serena has met Jac Naylor once before at a television awards ceremony. In hindsight, she blames the Shiraz she’d been consuming from the free bar but as she looks at the promotional image now, her first impression is still that the property expert has fantastic cheekbones. Serena just hopes she won’t say the fact to the woman’s face again. Jac is graceful and glamourous and just a little bit scary. Serena thinks she’s going to be serious competition.

 

-

 

Bernie’s daughter once again gets wind of the next announcements and messages Bernie informing her to tune into The One Show that evening. When Bernie asks how her daughter is finding out this information Charlotte simply responds with ‘when you love a show this much, you become a super-sleuth. There’s no way all tonight’s guests would go on together if they weren’t doing Strictly.’

 

Sure enough, the episode airs and all three guests announce their participation. The Strictly twitter account also makes it official.

 

@bbcstrictly: He can pack a punch in the ring but will Ric’s #Strictly dance moves be a knockout? @ROCKYGRIFFIN

 

@bbcstrictly: We used to love him as a baddie in @bbceastenders and now @GuySelf is coming out of retirement just for #Strictly!

 

@bbcstrictly: Nicky McKendrick is one of the best new stand-ups on the scene and now she’s putting the ha ha has into our cha-cha-chas! Welcome to #Strictly @Nickayyy

 

-

 

Bernie assesses the new candidates. She knows who Ric is. Ric ‘Rocky’ Griffin was the country’s leading boxer for a number of years until his retirement. Now he makes his money by doing charity events and owning a chain of specialist boxing gyms. Bernie rather thinks he’ll be one to watch.

 

Guy Self on the other hand is the classic Strictly Come Dancing recruit. Aging actor from a well-known soap or drama who wants to remain in the limelight. Another Robbie Medcalf. Bernie hopes he doesn’t get paired with Serena because she knows Serena deserves much better (or, Bernie thinks hopefully, herself).

 

Nicky McKendrick seems very excited about appearing on Strictly during her interview on The One Show. She’s bubbly and funny and Bernie thinks that she’ll give the show absolutely everything she’s got. Nicky reminds Bernie a bit of Charlotte and how her daughter’s eyes light up at the mention of sequins and dancing and glitterballs. Perhaps it’s the motherly instinct in her, Bernie thinks, as she finds herself rooting for Nicky before they’ve even begun.

 

-

 

Serena groans. Ric ‘Rocky’ Griffin and Guy Self? She’s absolutely going to get partnered with one of those, they’re exactly the sort of celebrity she’s been given in all recent previous series. If someone forced her to pick one, she’d probably choose Ric over Guy – at least he has an athletic background.

 

-

 

The next announcement comes a few days later on BBC News at 10, where the nation’s favourite weatherman Sacha Levy announces that he’s going to be a contestant on this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing. Bernie likes Sacha, she thinks he’s amusing. In fact, both of them doing Strictly at the same time would be a good chance to see if he’d like to appear on her podcast if she ever writes an episode of Letters and Numbers based on the weather.

 

-

 

@bbcstrictly: Welcome to the #Strictly family @SachaLevy, we can’t wait for you to bring the sunshine to our studio!

 

-

 

Whilst being older, Sacha Levy is known for his bright and bouncy personality. Therefore, he absolutely will not be paired up with Serena, the dancer thinks. Instead he’ll be paired with one of the younger dancers who will do cheesy dances to modern pop songs for as many weeks as he’s able to stay in the show. As she closes twitter, Serena sighs. She really hopes she gets paired with somebody who will want the trophy as much as she does.

 

-

 

‘Mum! I don’t know if you were listening to Radio 2 just then but they literally just announced another act!’

 

The text from Charlotte is accompanies swiftly by another.

 

‘I wasn’t expecting that! Frieda Petrenko doing Strictly? I am SHOOK!!’

 

The only reason Bernie knows what ‘shook’ means is because she recently did a podcast episode on modern slang. She’s very grateful for that right now as her daughter’s message would make no sense otherwise. That still doesn’t mean Bernie has any idea who Frieda Petrenko is. She opens the twitter app on her phone, hoping the announcement tweet will lend her more clues.

 

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@bbcstrictly: From global catwalks to the #Strictly ballroom, we just know Frieda’s going to SLAY! @PETRENKO

 

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Frieda Petrenko has a striking image. She’s a world-renowned model who has modelled for the likes of Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Versace. She also owns her own fashion house which specialises in high-end alternative clothing. It doesn’t matter who she is partnered with, Serena knows the Strictly costume department are going to be fighting over Frieda.

 

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It’s on Good Morning Britain that the shy and awkward television historian Arthur Digby announces his participation in the dance show. Despite not knowing him, Bernie already feels a kinship with the young man. They’re both bookish types for whom the glittery world of Strictly seems like an entirely different planet. At least she won’t be alone in how overwhelming it all is, Bernie thinks.

 

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@bbcstrictly: My, my! Napoleon expert and TV historian @ArthurDigby is the latest recruit to our #Strictly family!

 

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If she’s honest, Arthur Digby reminds Serena of Jason. The maternal instinct in her immediately wants him to go far in the competition (though not as far as winning the glitterball, that’s hers and hers only).

 

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‘OMG MUM!’

 

When that short message appears on her phone, Bernie knows her daughter is about to tell her of another Strictly announcement.

‘I’D HEARD THE RUMOURS BUT NEVER THOUGHT THEY’D BE REAL’

The presence of all capitals tells Bernie her daughter is incredibly excited.

‘SHE LITERALLY JUST ANNOUNCED IT ON HER ROCK RADIO SHOW’

It’s a she then, this new celebrity. That narrows down the options Bernie has to choose from.

‘ROXANNA’

‘FREAKING’

‘MACMILLAN’

Bernie sucks in a breath when those texts come through. Roxanna MacMillan was the biggest rock star of the 80s, Bernie can well remember bopping along to the hits of Questionable Ethics, the rock band which Roxanna MacMillan fronted (and made famous after the infamous bust-up after which the former – much duller - singer John Gaskell left the band). If she’s being truly honest, Roxanna MacMillan was a younger Bernie’s secret crush. In hindsight, she’s not sure how anyone believed she was just a fan of rock music when she had that many pin-ups of the punky blonde singer.

 

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@bbcstrictly: She may have @QuestionableEthics but let’s hope Roxanna MacMillan doesn’t have questionable dance moves! @Rockxana

 

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Serena involuntarily licks her lips at the announcement photo of Roxanna MacMillan. Oh, the singer most definitely still has it. Serena is more than happy to admit that for a long time when she was younger, post-Gaskell era Questionable Ethics were her favourite band for reasons other than their discography. There’s something to be said for a rock band fronted by a confident woman with a powerful stare and striking haircut. Serena rather hopes she’s paired with the rock star.

 

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The final contestant is announced on Lorraine. Football pundit Angus Farrell sits on the ever-cheerful Scotswoman’s famous sofa to tell her all about how thrilled he is to be going on Strictly. Bernie rolls her eyes. He seems spectacularly dull.

 

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@bbcstrictly: Straight from #MatchOfTheDay, here’s our catch of the day, @AngusFarrellTV. Welcome to #Strictly!

 

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Serena groans. Boring middle-aged male who probably has two left feet and no personality? That’s exactly the sort of person she gets partnered with. She resigns herself to a series spent with either Angus Farrell or Guy Self.

 

 

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Once all the celebrities are announced, the BBC Strictly social media and webpages are updated with photos of all of the contestants. Bernie looks at the collection and mentally tries to work out where she’ll fit in with all of them. She takes a breath and tries to remind herself that it doesn’t matter where she places, she’s not entered this competition to be competitive. She’s entered to make her kids happy and challenge herself to something new. That’s all. Bernie nods resolutely to herself. That’s right. The only things she’s going to get out of her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing are some new dance skills and a sense of satisfaction at doing something out of her comfort zone. Nothing more. That’s not what Strictly is for.